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‘Clear Spot’: How Beefheart Sought To Make His Mark On The Charts

Moving away from his avant-garde work, ‘Clear Spot’ marked one of Captain Beefheart’s more successful forays into commercial waters.

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When Clear Spot came hot on the heels of The Spotlight Kid, in October 1972, it was the most obvious evidence yet that, after years of ploughing his furrow in the furthest-out fields, Captain Beefheart was looking to reap commercial rewards.

Captain Beefheart Too Much Time Single Label - 300Production had never usually been a major concern for Beefheart, but for Clear Spot he brought in Ted Templeman, then fresh off the back of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey and deep in the thick of helming The Doobie Brothers’ blues-tinged boogie. Immediately, the album was set to feature a more radio-friendly sound than any of its predecessors; Beefheart even issued a single, his first since Trout Mask Replica. Pairing ‘Too Much Time’ with ‘My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains’ suggested that he felt the world was ready to be beguiled by a softer Magic Band.

Not that Beefheart had smoothed all his edges. ‘Sun Zoom Park’ is as rhythmically disjointed as ever, while ‘Lo Yo Yo Stuff’ is a fantastically lascivious opener that finds him doing the titular action “like any other fella away from home, all alone”. Elsewhere, ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’ rises above its bar-band riffing thanks to drummer Ed Marimba’s syncopated drumming – though it also sees Beefheart acting like any smooth bandleader worth his chitlins, giving a shout out to Zoot Horn Rollo and asking the guitarist to provide “that long lunar note – and let it float”.

Captain Beefheart Clear Spot Inner - 300If Clear Spot also saw Beefheart casually declare ‘Nowadays A Woman’s Gotta Hit A Man’ (“to make him know she’s there”), it actually finds him at his most gentle – romantic, even. ‘My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains’ is as delicate as the title suggests, while ‘Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles’ is arguably the closest he ever got to a declaration of love. Elsewhere, on ‘Crazy Little Thing’, Beefheart introduces female backing vocals, further distancing the album from his previously unhinged primal howls.

Despite his best guidance, and long-time supporter Lester Bangs’ declaration, in Creem, that “the Captain may have a hit on this deck, folks”, Clear Spot actually fared less well than The Spotlight Kid, sneaking in at No.191 in the US charts. It nevertheless remains one of the Captain’s more successful forays into commercial waters, and, for some, continues to represent a worthy entry point into his work.

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